Kuala Lumpur International AV Show (KLIAV) 2018 Impressions Thread
Aug 19, 2018 at 11:12 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 75

ezekiel77

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Original article featured in Headphonesty, and like the Titanic, split in two parts.

Part I

The annual KL International AV Show (KLIAV) was held from 20th to 22nd July in Sunway Putra Hotel, Kuala Lumpur. It was organised by 3 Dot Events and is now into its 25th year.

Full disclosure: I wasn’t planning on going. Every seasoned headfier dreams of the day his setup has reached endgame and he can ride into the sunset with the gear of his dreams. Good equipment provides good memories, great ones transcend space and time; so much so you don’t care about new releases anymore, confident that your retirement gear can take on any and all comers.

I guess my time wasn’t up, as there were still uncharted frontiers to blaze. Curiosity got the better of me when Uncle David from E1 Personal Audio (an exhibitor) e-mailed about bringing over a few flagship-tier earphones from 64 Audio that I have yet to hear. Turns out all I needed was an excuse to attend. I went on my best behaviour for days, applied for two days’ annual leave from my wife, and got going.


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Three days of ear-smashing mayhem!


Once again, this is not a comprehensive report of the entire show. I focused only on earphones, headphones and its related gear. Speakers, record players and projectors are beyond me. They do not welcome me, nor do I have six figures to spend hehe.

Gear Used:
  • Sony WM1A “K” Modded (FW2.0, low gain)
  • Empire Ears Legend X
  • Jomo Audio Flamenco
  • Effect Audio Ares II 4.4mm balanced
Albums Listened:
  • The Eagles - Hell Freezes Over
  • Fleetwood Mac - Rumours
  • Amber Rubarth - Sessions from the 17th Ward
  • Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
  • Ed Sheeran - Divide

With a full day of ear exercises ahead, I dove head-first into products that tickled my fancy (no, not there) most. As always with shows, because of noise levels from attendees and speaker systems, coupled with ear fatigue, my impressions might not be entirely accurate. I start with flagship products first and work my way down. Hit me with your best shot (no, not there), fire away. To the main floor of the expo I go.




Sennheiser HD820

We commence with something that has garnered tons of attention, Sennheiser’s first top-of-the-line (TOTL) closed headphones, the HD820. At USD2400 they have a lot to live up to. Sennheiser never fail to impress with their looks. Imagine HD800S with Gorilla Glass covers at the sides. The build is superb and they fit comfortably on me head.

As for the sound, I expected flagship-tier HD800S-like wide open soundstage with pinpoint imaging, but was left disappointed. The soundstage was narrower than expected, just very deep, like listening to music in a tunnel. I knew compromises had to be made for a closed headphone, but they don’t isolate very well either! The speakers blaring nearby could be heard loud and clear.


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Even hi-fi gears wore formal for this event.


So What Went Wrong?

Analysing the sound further, the signature takes on a slight V-shape with accented bass and treble. The bass, while fairly fast and accurate, has an emphasised midbass that I do not associate with Sennheiser cans. The treble has excellent extension and sparkle and is easily the best part of the spectrum.

The mids, however, take the biggest hit. They are thin and reedy with a weird tone and a hollowness to the note body. This made me wallow in dismay, thinking that the much better HD800S can be had for a lot cheaper. It’s a mixed bag for sure, but I hope Sennheiser come back with marked improvements in HD820’s next iteration.



Sennheiser HD660S

Let’s try again after the false start, shall we? The HD660S is an update to the evergreen HD650, a much loved staple of headphonedom. Frequent followers will no doubt hear about the infamous “Sennheiser veil” plaguing the HD650, with the theory saying that Sennheiser cans are overly warm and treble-fearing. The 660S was created to fix that mindset, permanently.

And by Jove (or is it Jose?), this is a GREAT can! The sound is intricately balanced, with just the right amount of bass, playful treble sparkle and damn good mids. Vocals and instruments sound lifelike, intimate, and positively mesmerising. There are gobs of air in between the instruments so the music breathes freely, despite the slight warmish tone and good note body.


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“I look good, you look good, let’s dance.”


Mastery in Tone and Control

The 660S shows off its mastery in tone and control, not one part of the signature emphasised over the other, resulting in a frighteningly enjoyable listen. The only qualm is a slightly small soundstage, but with a tone as good as this, and at a world-ending price of USD500, I much prefer this over the HD820. Endgame? We are just getting started.



Sennheiser HD650

Would you believe that in 5 years of dabbling in head-fi, this would be the first time I’ve listened to the legendary HD650? Strange but true. The HD650 has world-renowned rich and alluring mids that is able to convert anyone who originally prefers a sterile, neutral sound. The mids are where the magic is, and the HD650’s creamy, dreamy rendition has collected legions of fans over the years.

Compared to the HD660S though, it seems the HD650 has to finally give in to its successor. None of the mids magic is lost, and you get a boost of clarity and more present treble for a better balanced sound. The 650 might have rounder note edges, but the added element of fun from the 660S is very hard to resist.



Sennheiser HD600

A long time ago, the world was divided into two sets of people; those who prefer the neutral and detailed HD600, and in the other camp, the warmer, richer HD650. Listening to HD600 for the first time, I thought the 660S was superior in every way. Its detailed, rich and fun signature runs laps around the 600, making it sound anaemic and boring in the process.

I could tell you the winner within seconds of listening. The 660S combines the tonal body of HD650, with the detail levels and treble accents of HD600, into a total package made of pure win. Practically a best-of-both-worlds, have-your-cake-and-eat-it scenario. I’ll cut down on the cliches, I promise.



Campfire Audio Atlas

Ken Ball, prolific Campfire chief, is always up to something. My favourite creation of his is the Andromeda, an earphone that needs no introduction. This year he unleashed upon us two brand new IEMs, the Comet and Atlas. Sporting single dynamic drivers in a chrome shell, the larger Atlas is a new flagship and maybe-replacement for their previous bass monster, Vega.

Atlas is no doubt, well-built, as expected from Campfire offerings. The chrome shells will surely invite micro-scratches later on, but that won’t be my concern today lol. Let’s move on to the sound. Overall it’s a V-shaped monitor fashioned after Vega, bass-heavy and authoritative.


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Also known as the Campfire Audio Fatlas.


Grander and Grander

The bass hits with great aplomb, it’s full-bodied, with a thundering slam and lovely decay. There is some bleed to the mids due to a midbass hump. The mids are located further back and sound neutral and smooth, but not prominent enough. In the upper registers, the treble can get raspy and tizzy. There is decent sparkle but it’s peaky to my ears.

There a certain grandness to Atlas’ presentation, hence its epic name. The soundstage is also dutifully wide and expansive, with adequate separation and good dynamics in the signature. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see myself coveting another V-shaped monitor. Atlas has its fans but I’ll pass.



Campfire Audio Comet

At USD200, Comet is like Atlas-lite, with a smaller shell and friendlier ergonomics compared to its big brother. The sound signature is also V-shaped (surprise, surprise), with average stage dimensions which resembles a putting your head inside a box. The bass, again, has good reach and slam. The mids are located behind the bass, and lack character and presence.

The treble is muted if compared with Atlas, which might actually be a good thing. It delivers decent amounts of detail and sparkle to keep things going. Overall though, the stage size is too small and signature too lacking in dynamics for me to fully dive into the music with it. Andromeda is still at the top of the Campfire pile for me.



JVC HA-FW01

JVC! That’s a brand you don’t hear very often (unless you’re an Arsenal fan). I once owned the renowned FXT90, a fun, engaging IEM with horrible timbre. From there, JVC went on to their famed “Woodies” line, like the FX850 and the bass armageddon IEM, FX1100. A few updates later, and we arrive at the FW01. They love their wood. No, not that.


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I made sure to capture the word “Jack Ass’y”.


JVC has always opted for a full, natural sound, and the FW01 is no different. The bass is bold and audacious, with equal amounts of subbass reach and midbass bleed. The mids, as if not wanting to be outdone, are rich as hell as well, with excellent body to the notes and good timbre thanks to the wood housing.

To balance out the mellow warmth that threatens to implode the signature, the lower treble is emphasised and sounds a bit tizzy, but quickly rolls off before causing anymore trouble. The stage size is small and separation is so-so, so listening to the FW01 is like devouring a full meal with your ears. Not my cup o’ tea, but you do you, JVC.


With the main floor exhibits done with, I moved to another floor where exhibitors display their wares in hotel rooms. Do they sleep in the same room at night, with their favourite gear lulling them to blissful slumber? Probably. I forgot to ask. I visited the Stars Picker rooms first, and their selection is just on fire (figuratively) this year.


Cayin N8

Cost no object. That already tells you it’s gonna hurt the wallet real bad. What’s even worse is, Cayin’s new flagship digital audio player (DAP) N8 doesn’t even have a price tag yet. While awaiting that suckerpunch to be announced, how is it? We already know that it has two modes, solid state and vacuum tube outputs, so that’s two sides of delicious to explore.

First off, it’s heavy! It’ll give your arm a nice workout if you carry this around. Build quality is faultless, it looks solid and could probably survive a rumble in the jungle, a mounting and a pounding. The interface is laggy but intuitive, I hope they get this sorted out in future firmwares.


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N8: Yet another way to say “I'm richer than you.”


Analog For Life

The balanced solid state mode is richly analog, with high detail levels and a very engrossing sound signature. Notes are buttery, well-rounded and full, it’s a truly musical experience. The single-ended vacuum tube output turns up the warmth further, at the expense of detail levels and soundstage size. Fans of tube amps would enjoy this, but I prefer the solid state way more.

Compared to my K-modded WM1A, the 1A sounds brighter and more spacious than either N8 mode. Notes are more textured, immediate and less rich, a more on-your-feet approach as opposed to the armchair listening of the N8. I do think they both perform at the same level. Yay me.

*Update: N8 is announced to have a price tag of USD2999.99. Imagine paying USD3k in cash and getting a penny back. That penny feels goooood.



Elysian Acoustic Labs Terminator

Meet the first Malaysian custom IEM maker. The brains behind Elysian, Lee, is always tinkering and updating his product line, culminating in his latest flagship, named after Arnold. I kid, I kid. The Terminator is an 8 balanced armature (BA) IEM embodying Lee’s tuning philosophy, a full-bodied, immersive sound resembling high-end speakers.


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First one was good, but the sequel became a classic.


The Arnold

The bass and mids are bold, forward and well-rounded, with an unmistakably warm and organic tone. It is coloured, veering towards natural-sounding, but my, the full notes take some getting used to. It’s bold like the strongest long black you’ve ever drunk (Drank? Drinked? Drankened?). The treble takes a step back, sounding smooth and liquid in comparison to the rest of the signature.

The full-on musical assault takes a brief respite via a cube-like, 3D soundstage. There is just enough width, depth and height for the music to go around. But again, the signature is divisive, and the price is, well, a cool USD2500. It’s best to listen for yourself to decide whether the sound suits you. Keywords are full, bold, and forward, like a male cologne ad.



Elysian Acoustic Labs Poseidon

Lee has another 8-driver up his sleeve, the Poseidon. Compared to Terminator, Poseidon is lighter and airier, with lesser midbass focus and a more balanced tuning overall. Make no mistake, the Elysian house sound is still very intact. I prefer this tuning, just that Poseidon is hampered by a small soundstage with a very in-your-head presentation. If that was Terminator, this is probably Sherminator.


2pm and it was time for my appointment with Uncle David from E1. I went to his room giddy with anticipation, having read so much, but never heard any of the 64 Audio flagships. Thinking back I might also have been hypoglycaemic. Without further ado, the fantastic four. Or fab four.


64 Audio Tia Fourte

At an obscene USD3599, you better believe the price. It shocked and awed when it was announced, and it was 64’s way of saying “yeh, we’re that good.” Heh. The in-house produced Tia drivers are opened-up BA drivers, delivering sound via a resonance chamber rather than traditional sound tubes. Like BAs unleashed, the lack of tubes brings out heightened detail levels.


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You could get a used car, or you could get the Fourte instead. Same price!


Jaw-dropper

Where do I begin? The Tia Fourte sounds… special. First thing you notice is how unbelievably large the soundstage is. I’ve read about it, and I can’t still wrap my mind around it, but here it was, a stage size that bests open headphones easily. The Fourte is big on wow factor (insert wow cat gif here), and the stage size was just the beginning.

Fourte seems to use every trick in the book to maximise air and stage dimensions. That is reflected in the tuning. Subbass is elevated, as is the upper treble. Bass notes are thick, organic and rounded with subbass emphasis, mids are crystal clear and articulate, and as for the treble, detail levels and extension are through the roof, blown sky-high.

Supersized

Combine the visceral bass and the hyper-realism of the treble, balanced by the clear and grounded mids, aided by the insane amounts of air and blown-open stage size; and you have an exciting listen that is always turned on. No other earphone I’ve heard renders music as unique as the Fourte.

However, its weakness has always been there and staring at you, longingly. It is strikingly incoherent, with the organic-sounding dynamic driver (DD) bass different from the rest of the articulate, detail-first signature of the Fourte. I might not be able to deal with that, but maybe you can. In summary, Fourte. Big-ass stage, big-ass wow factor, big-ass price. Everything is supersized!



64 Audio Tia Trio

Perhaps there was a demand for an alternative signature after the crazily-divisive Fourte. Regardless, 64 released Tia Trio at a lower, albeit still astronomical price point, yours for merely USD2299. As for the sound, the signature is reined in and forced to learn some restraint. This is Fourte after getting married, paying insurance premiums and growing older.


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“Look at my brothers, now look at me. I’m the normal one.”


The Tax-Payer

Notes are fuller and less edgy, with a smoother, mellower tone. The wow factor from the Fourte is gone, replaced by a more controlled “tax-payer” behaviour. Detail levels across the spectrum are still very much there, just devoid of histrionics. Timbre is improved, and listening to Trio is much less fatiguing than Fourte. The trade-off? The stage size is quite a bit smaller, as is the excitability factor.

Still, 64 might have stumbled into their best all-rounder yet. As an aside, the Trio sounds remarkably alike in tone with my Empire Ears Legend X, but with less bass and more extended treble. They are similarly priced too. Maybe for most, Trio is all you need.



64 Audio U18t “Tzar”

If Fourte is a flashy race-car driver, U18t Tzar is a surgeon. Clinical and precise to a fault, Tzar is born to dissect and analyse. Like the frog/mouse you massacred in high school, Tzar lays bare the elements of music with incisive cuts of a musical scalpel. Before I run out of medical terms, Tzar is borderline analytical by the way it retrieves detail, but injects the signature with a dollop of fun.

Again, I must mention the insanely wide soundstage, probably with only Fourte as company. Depth is much lesser compared to the width, but as a result the Tzar has the best left-to-right separation I’ve ever heard in an IEM. The surgeon at work! Every note is clean, quick, well-defined with cool machined edges, and lots of air around it. It’s technical almost to a fault.


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Alrightttt who likes fire? A barbecue perhaps?


The Fun Surgeon

Thankfully, the surgeon likes to have fun too, like a whiskey at clock-off time. This is evident by the midbass bump, slightly forward mids and heightened lower treble, amassing an exciting, no-holds-barred fun signature. It lacks the pristine, “my air is fresher than yours” space and cleanness of the Fourte, but replaces it with a level of engagement even Fourte can be in awe of.

With such a signature, you can probably guess that instrument timbre is bright. The Tzar says yes that may be, but unapologetically throws at you air, texture, extension, resolution, sparkle and sizzle, hoping you’d forget about it. Tzar is one-of-a-kind and knows it.



64 Audio U12t

I hate to say this, but after listening to the full stable of 64 Audio’s best (and priciest), U12t sounds rather flat. As a USD1999 IEM, it lacks character to stand on its own compared to its brethren. It is no doubt, very competent technically, but nothing it has shouts “buy me”, as if I have USD2k lying around lol.

The U12t is the most neutral of the lot. The bass has a BA-like tuning, with even hits but lacking dynamics. Mids are clear and smooth, with a brightish timbre. Treble has the trademark airy extension as well, and a nice shimmer. Soundstage is deeper than it is wide, and imaging is very good. It is, as I’ve said competent, you won’t feel like you’ve wasted your money. It’s just not as distinguishable from other flagship tier IEMs as is. Nice guys finish last.



Astell&Kern A&Futura SE100

Uncle David had this lying around, so why not? Last year I was floored by the peerless technical ability of the A&Ultima SP1000 SS, their USD3500 flagship. The speed, detail retrieval and resolution of the SP1000 made me hear things from another dimension, breathed new life to old music and left me with a pleasant buzz for the next few days, if that was possible.

At half the price, the A&Futura SE100 promises half the performan… wait I’ll start over. The SE100 is made with a light aluminium casing and feels solid in hand. It comes with unique angles seemingly for exclusive left hand handling. Sorry if you use your right, it’s going to be awkward. The user interface as with all A&K DAPs is fast and friendly, like a smartphone. Let’s get to listening.


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SE100: Even robots and punks approve.


Once Popped, You Cannot Stop

The SE100 sounds neutral and spacious. It lacks the jaw-dropping micro-detail retrieval of the SP1000 and the supernatural air around each note, but in turn, musical presentation is more natural and rooted. Notes segue into each other with smoothness and coherency. When compared to my modded WM1A, note size is thinner and airier, with slightly less dynamics.

What it lacks in authority and weight it makes up for with spaciousness and a more relaxed, non-fatiguing sound. What can you eat all day without batting an eye? Pringles. It’s a signature hard to hate, and can handle any musical genre or transducer with great adeptness. With a (relatively) good price tag to match, A&K’s signature sound is not just for the super-rich elite.


My two hours with Uncle David up, I thanked him profusely with the demeanour of an excited puppy. It was time to head to the Stars Picker room again to listen to some headphones for a change of pace.
 
Last edited:
Aug 19, 2018 at 11:15 AM Post #2 of 75

ezekiel77

Reviewer at Headphonesty
Joined
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Likes
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Location
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Original article featured in Headphonesty.

Part II

MrSpeakers Voce

The Voce rides on a big wave of hype from HeadFi. Who wouldn’t be proud of boss Dan Clark? From humble headphone-modding beginnings to his very own electrostatic setup in a matter of years, that’s a big leap and a huge achievement no matter how you slice it. So let’s slice and dice the new Voce, yes?

Like most electrostatic headphones, Voce hits you with a torrent of detail. Nuances in the music are easily heard and presented, like a cat bringing you its fresh kill. It has very good balance from bass to treble, with a musical slant: notes are precise yet melodious.


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Reminds me of a No Doubt song.


Mr. Monotone

What I did not like, nor expect, is the lack of lightning-fast transients I’ve taken for granted from electrostatic setups. Stax SR-009, Shure KSE1500, Sennheiser HE-1 et al., all had a big wow factor in that not one ounce of detail is spared, and music can transform from soft and smooth to thunderous and roaring in a heartbeat. The dynamism, is what makes me yearn for an electrostatic setup of my own.

Sadly, the Voce falls short in this department. While sounding pleasant, the lack of air and dynamics make this sound unexciting and flat. Maybe I expected too much, but I hope one day MrSpeakers will have something that truly wows me.



Stax SR-L700

Last year the SR-009 left me utterly breathless, reaching for an oxygen mask before I hyperventilate to a hypoxic state. The 009 is flagship material in every respect, but today I explore another old Stax favourite, for people who want respite from the merciless, unforgiving nature of the 009.

When wearing the SR-L700, it makes you look special. They’re called earspeakers for a reason, and the rectangular housings will send weak hearts aflutter with their trademark design. I digress. No doubt, they are a tier below 009 in detail retrieval and transparency, but that’s exactly the point. You don’t have to worry about feeding the L700 inferior recordings and getting an ear-piercing retort.


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Hide your wives and girlfriends, L700 is here!


Like Coming Home

On further listening, it gets pretty addictive. Music is presented to you like a gentle wave, with note grain and grittiness smoothed out. At the same time, instrument timbre is accurate and natural, a delight to listen. Where Voce falters, L700 delivers dynamics in spades, providing excellent resolution and fast transients under a forgiving blanket of warmth and emotion.

The L700 provides a classic analog sound, reminding me of the speaker setup my dad used to have. It sounds easy and effortless, but when you really listen for it, all the details are there, in shades of amber and gold. It’s a signature to come home to and reminisce. Sheer excellence.



Audeze LCDi4

Following-up Stax will always be tough, that’s why I had LCDi4 lined up. Audeze, maker of amazing cans, made an audacious move to release a series of planar dynamic earphones, with the LCDi4 at the top of the stable. Wearing it was an anti-climax, though. No way around it, I hated the fit and fear the plasticky earhooks might snap off due to unbridled user rage.

As for the sound, the first thing you notice is the humongous sense of space and air. “Ooh that’s pretty big”, you say. Stage size is on par with Tia Fourte, but since the LCDi4 has open vents, it’s kinda cheating lol. Bass hits quick and clean with great impact and slam. It’s deft and nimble, appearing when it’s time and tailing off before making much of a mess.


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The personification of an anti-climax.


Y U Do Dis?

Mids are forward, perhaps too forward for my tastes. There is good body and clarity to the notes, and vocals aided by the forwardness sound lovely too. However, too much of a good thing means the centre image is congested when too much is going on. This might be the infamous 1.5KHz peak I’m hearing, that can only be corrected via EQ or Cipher cable. It boggles the mind how a default tuning can err like this.

A damn shame since the treble is beautiful. Smooth, quick, extended for miles, and sibilance-free. Overall, if it were not for the wonky mids, the LCDi4 would easily be a flagship-beater. The potential is definitely there, and I’m hoping for a better fit and tuning in the next iteration.



Jerry Harvey Audio Layla v1

Not part of the show per se (they did however have Roxanne and Billie Jean), but my buddy brought them over after coveting them for years. I remember the kerfuffle it caused when it was released in 2015, with the huge carbon-fibre shells and unbelievable price tag at the time. Now that flagships regularly hit USD3000-4000 anyway, Layla’s USD2700 price tag is slightly easier to stomach.

Layla is Jerry Harvey’s baby. The enduring flagship since 2015, designed to be the ultimate studio monitor. Released at a time when 12BAs in each shell were unheard of (but now everywhere you see), it was probably too ahead of its time. And now with the flagship-level competition aplenty, let’s see how this old warhorse fares.


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Layla has a girl’s name, but is the manliest IEM I’ve ever seen.


On Your Knees, Boy!


The entire signature comes back to the few keywords I can’t help but retype; Layla is lush, organic, mature, and natural. Instrument timbre is eerily good, as are detail levels. Each note has a nice, meaty presence, realistically fleshed out and then decaying gently. The lush notes do not congest the stage, as Layla is aided by one of the biggest soundstages among IEMs.

The soundstage is stupendously deep and wide, with stellar imaging across all axes. Bass, mids and treble act in unison, with incredible note bloom and texture, effortless extension at both ends, and smoothness that reflects a maturity in tuning that doesn’t need to wow at every turn. This is the perfect antithesis to Fourte’s brash and cocky ways. Ever wondered what liquid honey sounds like? Layla holds the answer.



Jomo Audio Quatre

As you might know, I own and love the Flamenco, which remains one of the highest resolution, most transparent IEMs I’ve heard. Jomo’s house sound focuses on technical ability and deriving enjoyment from hearing it all; every note from attack to release, spaces between the notes, and every harmonic distortion. It’s a bold philosophy that Jomo holds dear.

The Quatre is the top IEM from Jomo’s new hybrid “Melange” line. Featuring 3BAs and 1 DD, a brand new crossover design and four interchangeable Airflow Control Unit (ACU) filters, you can tailor the sound to your liking. For listening I was stuck with the black “balanced” filter, which had the least bass and most detail.


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Anyone up for a latte?


First Girlfriend Experience

Like your first girlfriend, Quatre is fun and energetic. Vocals and instruments are brought a little forward, with excellent balance between body and speed. Treble has a playful tingle to keep things fresh, and adroitly stays clear of harshness. Bass hits quick and precise, with a touch of organic bloom. All around, clarity is omnipresent, with ample black space dancing between notes, creating a wispy airiness to the signature.

After living with your first girlfriend for awhile, you discover the soundstage is quite small. This is where the analogy falls apart. Like Flamenco, Quatre is focused and precise, operating in a small, cube-shaped headstage with excellent imaging. The similarities with Flamenco are so apparent I did a small comparison.


Comparison with Jomo Flamenco

Compared with Flamenco, Quatre has warmer, smoother note edges and sounds more organic. This is probably to balance with the rounded bass notes of the dynamic driver. Flamenco otherwise has the extra edge in detail, resolution, articulation and imaging accuracy. Quatre is Jomo’s most musical range-topper yet, but still very reminiscent of Jomo’s much-vaunted house sound.



Jomo Audio Deux

The other hybrid in Jomo’s lineup is the 1DD + 1BA Deux. This was tested with the blue “energetic” ACU (pronounced ah-choo?) filters, which fills the signature with bass. I’m sorry to say I couldn’t get past one song with this.


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I’m a sucker for nice design.


The midbass was too thick and prominent and bled into the mids. The mids while rich and euphonic on its own, struggle to distance themselves from the overpowering bass. Treble seems muted as well. Combine the signature in a small stage and it sounds congested and slow, gasping for air. I can’t appreciate this.



QDC Anole V6

Everytime I attend a show there’s a huge likelihood I end up purchasing the show favourites. Last year I bought the Jomo Flamenco and QDC Gemini, and have been battling crippling poverty ever since. When word got out that QDC will release a new IEM, I flat-out panicked, petrified that they might release a successor to Gemini so soon.

Turns out the new IEM is the mid-range Anole V6, a 6BA IEM with a special gimmick of three tunable switches for different outcomes. While that sounds fun, the switches themselves were too small for my fingers (damn my blasted sausage fingers) and all the staff were busy, so I made do with the default tuning with all switches down, the flattest and most neutral setting.


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This is a butterfly disguised as a rainbow disguised as an IEM.


Pretty As A Picture

Have you checked out the shells? Their beauty is beyond words, and the only thing about Anole V6 that left me, ahem, shell-shocked. Unfortunately the signature is not to my liking. The bass, while full of texture, is polite and flat; the mids, while sounding euphonic (A QDC trademark) and forward, are thinnish and strangely detached from the listener. The treble is smooth, but sound safe and rolled-off, lacking excitement.

There is a good amount of clarity and transparency, and overall it is an able performer. I just suspect that the neutral setting is not for me. I like some meat in my er, meat.


As the sun set and nightfall beckons, hordes of tired audiophiles gradually shifted towards the exit. My ears were tired and wanted some silence. As I was about to leave, le wild beautiful IEM caught my eye.


Acoustune HS-1551CU

I’ve been wanting to listen to this one for yonks, so I willed myself to the listening table yet again. The Acoustune rep was supremely accommodating, given the time of day. The 1551CU garnered some fame for the outstanding shell design and a natural tuning from a single dynamic driver. The IEMs also come with resplendent cables with original Pentaconn jacks. It’s sheer quality.

Look at the shell. Feel it, learn from it. Exchange stories with it. It’s top-tier construction all the way. There might never be another IEM as alluring as this one. I could touch it all day like… let’s not go there.


ZghFOCem-MetgDszFNMa1Y_Q5JWN_l1wKXd9okF2RhrxIusI7Ng3QRTwyc7vbSZrqqyaXKIkybzIS3sRV8dyTunqdliLdhbC5KC1US-00ZFcLgeYcrLPWnWms-fDC2_-WYwYKyUt

Some have called this the Iron Man IEMs.


Teddy Bear Attack

As for the sound, it overwhelms me like a hurricane to the senses. All I hear is richness, warmth and a full-bodied presentation. It would’ve sunk where it stood, if not for the wide soundstage working overtime to separate the elements of the music. Notes are organic and have an analog feel all over it, starting and ending beautifully-rounded, like a teddy bear attack.

Bass and mids are front and centre, while the treble is pulled back. The balance of the tuning is undeniably shifted to note thickness and fullness, sacrificing note texture and detail for a uniformly warm sound. It is too warm and coloured for my liking, but I can easily imagine analog fans sinking into the 1551CU for a session of pee-inducing relaxation.



Acoustune HS-1650CU/HS-1670SS

“Hey you, handsome, come!” The Acoustune rep (who came all the way from Japan) signalled me for more. Acoustune had on display, two prototypes that will be released in September. The tuning has already been finalised, and he wanted my feedback. Probably due to my fame as a reviewer, or more likely because I was the only guy at the Acoustune table now lol.

These twins sport the same dynamic driver, which underwent some upgrades and refinements from the previous generation. The only difference between them is the brass chamber for the 1650CU, and a stainless steel chamber for the 1670SS. The 1650CU caught my eye immediately, with its mini-Focal Utopia appearance begging for a listen.


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I would get this based on looks alone.


The Dynamic Duo

Now this is more like it! The bass, equally impactful as the 1551CU, is now nice and TIGHT, allowing an abundance of bass air to uh, aerate (what else can it do) the signature. Decay is fast and fluttery, and the thinner notes did wonders for the signature. Now free from bloat, I was able to appreciate the lovely bass texture and detail. It’s still very natural-sounding and punchy. What a fun bass!

The mids, as before are brought slightly forward, bringing attention to the fluid, natural timbre and syrupy vocals. Female vocals work a treat, I requested some alone time with the prototypes but no dice. Treble is airy, sparkly, well-extended, and in line with the rest of the signature. I have hit gold! What a fun, dynamic and punchy signature to be enjoyed.


5-Bspe6XNHxVYWSsPuyMGZr1JilsnssrrXfFaWIh-kfvhGYMAPG3N6ZegrKSnZieEOjrDbpe6CrpG4gr1JRIugApJGr8hxi2WTRjq9Z-KnEHr0j8QfO6cHPCJRHDCKTOWAibx0o9

But not you. You seem like high maintenance.


The Brothers of Destruction

The 1670SS is very similar-sounding to the 1650CU, except that details and resolution are given a noticeable bump. Note texture is so real you can palpate it, and the already excitable signature veers towards a slight brightness. The only downside to this is the sometimes-tizzy treble. If you want your detail, you should be able to handle the highs too.

In both IEMs, the stage is very wide, and deep enough for a 3D presentation. Separation and imaging are brilliant as well, but all the technicalities exist to serve the vibrant and fun signature that places you in the middle of a studio, making magic. Amazing flagship stuff by Acoustune! I whipped out my wallet only to be told to wait for its official release. Crud.

The shocker for me is they will be priced at around USD700-800 which is very reasonable for a flagship-tier sound. My wallet is silently waiting.


You know how, when the venue is about to close but you defiantly stay on, only to be dragged by the guards to the nearest exit? While being dragged along, I managed to collect a few more, rapid-fire impressions. My last stand lol.



Rhapsodio Zombie

I love Rhapsodio, a boutique IEM company from Hong Kong making top-tier earphones. I had both Solar and Galaxy V2 which were different enough to have their own followings, and showed off the boss Sammy Mak’s adept skill in tuning for the masses.


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Dedicated to brains, and the Cranberries.


The Zombie is an 8BA + 1DD hybrid that aims for the skies. The signature reminds me of a Solar (a warm and natural IEM) with more bass and more treble. It’s too V-shaped for my liking, and the midbass absolutely overwhelms the rest of the signature. The strident treble, meant to bring balance to the force (sound), was too bright. Perhaps it was named Zombie because it was dead on arrival? Sorry about that.



Rhapsodio Saturn

The Saturn fared even worse. Rhapsodio’s mid-tier offering is a single dynamic driver that sounds all kinds of bassy. The bass-forwardness and bleed, coupled with a distinct lack of clarity and muddy note definition from the mids upwards, turned me off immediately. Sammy is truly a great guy, and already hard at work with new top-tier stuff, like the upcoming Eden. I wish him all the success in the world.



KuraDa KD-E1 Quartetto

Diversity counts, and one staff member thought maybe I’d appreciate this newly-released unicorn from Japan. Virtually no information exists online for the Quartetto, I’ve checked. It does come with a ~USD700 cable from Brise Audio as stock, so it’s always worthwhile to listen to something expensive.


vCSQB5r0nG0YRzGjoQWa6EAW5j9JVUz8MEUE9fCjYst1Sxwcy8psAL1rHYC4zB3p6Uu3SXsP7CZ8mSIN_hImN1Ib5xxLPzQ1PN0muL10toxXYmXXwXqM8RwDktRkt7K-C_jQ7w2t

Does this look like a tiny sweeper bot to you? No? Just me?


Japanese Unicorn

Quartetto is a 2BA + 2DD monitor which aims for maximum enjoyment out of music. It sounds well-balanced with equal amounts of bass, mids and treble. You already know the 2DDs spell trouble, and sure enough the subbass focus has enough visceral impact and slam for a thumping good time.

The mids are coloured with a warm, sweet tinge, alluring you with intimacy. It’s not reference or neutral, but the colouration is well done. and Treble is smooth and even with just a touch of sparkle, before rolling off gently. The signature is very easy to like, just don’t choke on its USD1980 price tag.


**Bonus: bcos it's so hard to even obtain basic information of it, I snapped a pic of the Quartetto spec sheet. This, and my impressions of it, are all you'll find about it online in English as of today lol.


IMG_20180725_085411.jpg




IMR Acoustics R1

Last one. A steampunk enthusiast’s dream, I was pulled in by the design of the R1. The pink filter was the show favourite which has rich mids, controlled highs and impactful (but not maximum) bass. The ports are open for the biggest and airiest soundstage possible. The R1 sounds meaty, forward and musical, with a definite V-shape.


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Looks medieval and knightly at the same time.


The bass is the best part of the R1. Quick, impactful and intricately layered, the bass imbues a feeling of warmth with its airiness. Mids are unfortunately overshadowed by the top-tier bass, sounding slightly muffled and hollow but maintaining an organic sound. The treble in turn is fun and sparkly. I can imagine many people liking this signature and fine-tuning it with filters of their choice.


It was dark outside, everyone in attendance made their way to the exit. I stayed past the closing time of 7.30pm along with a few other hardcore audiophiles. It was a tremendously fun and tiring day, with helping upon helping of generally good audio. As I made my way to the exit (more like thrown out lol), I made sure to thank the staff for their courtesy and kindness.



Show Favourites
  1. Acoustune HS-1650CU

  2. Sennheiser HD660S

  3. Stax SR-L700

Biggest Surprise
  1. 64 Audio Tia Fourte

Biggest Disappointments
  1. Sennheiser HD820

  2. Audeze LCDi4

Credits

This show would have not been possible without the participation of a few prominent Head-fi sanctuaries in Malaysia, also known as my regular hangouts.

Stars Picker provided most of the cans and IEMs for the show. Their shop is so comfortable, you can literally hang out for hours on end. And they have a cafe so you don't even have to step out for makan (Malay for eat)!

E1 Audio supplied the Campfire and FiiO stuff, while their boss David graciously lent me and my bros the 64 Audio top tier stuff to listen. I'm thankful for the opportunity. I'm also very poisoned now thanks.

Jaben supplied the Sennheiser stuff. Their booth was unfortunately viciously polluted by speaker noise from the other booths. But it being the only chance I could listen to the HD820 and HD660S we had no other choice but to grin and bear it.

Centre Circle Audio provided Chord stuff, some Acoustunes, Rhapsodios and the IMR R1. Their showpiece is Dave > LCD4, but right at the next room were an awesome speaker setup powered by Blu MKII > Dave which captured all the attention. So their Headfi room was pretty quiet lol.
 
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Aug 19, 2018 at 11:16 AM Post #3 of 75

ezekiel77

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Bonus Section

Out of topic outtakes/unmentionables not featured in the original articles.


I love food. I love lunch. Probably ate more than I'll ever remember, that's why I love photographing food too. In times of sadness and yearning it takes me and my tastebuds back to a happy place. Some say if you wish hard enough you can taste your own memories, sorta like phantom tastebuds, y'know?


So how did I survive 7 punishing hours of non-stop listening and ogling? I energized first with a feast. Red Lobster, located at the mall right next to the show, promised a tantalising protein-packed seafoody sensation. The salmon was so-so but the lobster tail was amazing. Put me in the mood for some serious listening!


IMG_20180721_123957.jpg



My sister who lives in KL ordered this ginormous fish n' chips. It was falsely advertised as substantially smaller in the menu pic. I hate dishonesty lol. One of the fish fillers was as large as my hand!


IMG_20180721_124136.jpg



The highlight of Red Lobster, before even the lobster itself, are these delectable Cheddar Bay biscuits. Fluffy and cheesy and chewy and rich and... Did I come for an audio show?


IMG_20180721_123055.jpg



Ok you've got this far, time to be rewarded! I made sure to look as unimportant as possible for the photos below, if I could get off-frame I would.


IMG_20180721_105127.jpg



One more.


IMG_20180721_113741.jpg



As a parting note, every headfier deserves a few buddies in real life to egg each other on big purchases, share impressions and have jolly good meets and meats. Do you think I really listen to gear in my reviews? I just jot down whatever my bros say lol.


IMG_20180721_164605.jpg



Audio bros for life, also the ultimate alibi for my wife lol.

Hope you guys don't take this post so seriously. We have enough stresses in life already. Enjoy your gear and even more so, enjoy your music!
 
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Aug 19, 2018 at 12:47 PM Post #4 of 75

Deezel177

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Man... excellent work as always, Lau! I had as much of a blast reading the article as I did agreeing with pretty much everything you said. :D Though, I think you'll find the Jomo hybrids way more enjoyable with the option to swap modules. I understand your gripes, but I hope - for Joseph's sake - that there're more opportunities for auditionees to experiment more at shows like these. Like you, I've also found myself entranced by the Stax L700; so fast, refined and detailed, yet smooth, grain/distortion-free and rich. How 'bout one of us pays for the energiser? :p Again, hats off, man! :)
 
Aug 19, 2018 at 2:38 PM Post #6 of 75

Wyville

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I just skipped through it quickly to see all the gear you demoed, so I will read it more attentively later, but awesome write up!

(Yeah, the Zombie and Saturn are all ‘bout tha BASS and no doubt a bit much for most people, but I still love their sound dearly. Did switch to a silver cable for my Saturn, that helps a little.)
 
Aug 20, 2018 at 1:44 AM Post #11 of 75

ezekiel77

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Man... excellent work as always, Lau! I had as much of a blast reading the article as I did agreeing with pretty much everything you said. :D Though, I think you'll find the Jomo hybrids way more enjoyable with the option to swap modules. I understand your gripes, but I hope - for Joseph's sake - that there're more opportunities for auditionees to experiment more at shows like these. Like you, I've also found myself entranced by the Stax L700; so fast, refined and detailed, yet smooth, grain/distortion-free and rich. How 'bout one of us pays for the energiser? :p Again, hats off, man! :)
Thanks Daniel! Much appreciated! I agree if I had time to fiddle with the filters for the new Jomo's I might have had an even better time. But therein lies the conundrum as I don't want to replace Flamenco yet! At some point I might have to get a Stax setup, but not now lol. Kids running around the house.

great impresions
Thank you as always!

I just skipped through it quickly to see all the gear you demoed, so I will read it more attentively later, but awesome write up!

(Yeah, the Zombie and Saturn are all ‘bout tha BASS and no doubt a bit much for most people, but I still love their sound dearly. Did switch to a silver cable for my Saturn, that helps a little.)
I was bass-immune after Legend X and it really set an insanely high standard. I'm sure when listened on its own the Rhapsodios will shine, after all yeah getting the IEM is half the journey, Sammy would say to get a good pairing cable next!

Such an entertaining read on a lazy Sunday afternoon Lau! :clap::clap::clap:
Plus, peppered with quips for me to sharply exhale out of my nose at :D
Always a pleasure to write.

Thank you dude! Your impressions on Acoustune IEMs are very helpful and make me curious... ^^
Tell me about it. There's a preorder special here and I'm just looking at the buy now button.

Great impressions man, really enjoyed that read!\

I want to try the Accostune, but I read that they are working on some ciem version so I'll wait:)
Custom? Oh such sweet poison...

ooo, i like that track, iirc the album on the left was from the 30th anniversary cd? but then again im not really sure, I just pirated it :p
I just took whatever song/album was available in both players. Quality will vary since I don't do DSD yet hehe.
 
Aug 20, 2018 at 10:22 PM Post #12 of 75

seanwee

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Dang, so the Tia Fourte was not on display?

I really wanted to try that.
 
Aug 20, 2018 at 10:27 PM Post #13 of 75

ezekiel77

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Dang, so the Tia Fourte was not on display?

I really wanted to try that.
Nope, it was an unofficial attraction by E1 (their booths were sponsored by FiiO and Campfire/ALO). I waited for two years to try haha.
 
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Aug 20, 2018 at 10:40 PM Post #15 of 75

seanwee

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I've never seen any 64Audio iems at E1's store either so I didn't bother asking

@crinacle I also hate the LCDi4. Its waaaay overpriced for such a lousy sound.
 

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